Author Name: Stephen Wasilewski and Brian Mahoney
At the start of 2010, a witty college sophomore named John Anczarski Jr. sought escape from an ordinary Pennsylvanian lifestyle while attaining hope for a family-related fight against breast cancer. John’s willingness sparked a grand idea for actual support—cycling all the way to California for a good cause for breast cancer donations and awareness. This had the workings of a memorable summer. Matched with the help of friends Ty Bereskie, Nick Gober, and Travis Brown, they jointly launched “The Pink Pedal”.
What started as a fun journey spanning across 3,000 miles ended as a life lesson in humility. The four brave riders chased a California destination in approximately 35 days. For every chance mile came stories from the road and sacrifices made in blood, sweat, and tears.
Based on true events, The Pink Pedal’s own van driver Stephen Wasilewski and writer Brian Mahoney deliver a heartfelt story sprouted from Stephen’s resources and firsthand experiences aiding The Pink Pedal.
The approximate number of words in this inspirational nonfiction memoir is about 34,300. The point of view is written from Stephen’s perspective to focus on the influence Johnny Anczarski had on him and the Schuylkill County community from childhood until Johnny’s untimely death in June of 2010. Quotes said by Johnny during the Pink Pedal campaign are used at the start of most chapters.
My eyes gaze around the dimly lighted basement of a church. I am a young Cub Scout among others seeking adventure and experience in the wild. Camping, having a bonfire, or anything sparked our undivided attention. The church basement kept me alert as I am detained in a dusty, cobwebbed spectacle of dark cement-crusted walls aligned with old portraits of Jesus and framed pictures of past scout troops. The troop leader announces that we could be just like the other scout troops someday. He would coddle us with promises of wearing our finely stitched uniforms, shooting archery in the woods, and roughing it in the wilderness. All of which I eagerly wanted to try but needed to wait upon. I twiddle thumbs, sit cross legged Indian-style, and wonder what was to come.
An episode of thudding reverberated above my head from the floor above. It was either a service or one of those Halloween parties being thrown. Little did I know back then as a child that my future best friend would attend the services upstairs. The thuds amplified louder and louder. I abandoned the Cub Scout gathering and followed the noise down the corridor. Soft dinging of the piano rumbled as if someone was practicing for a concert. I blindly climbed the steps in fear and awe. The cataclysm of pedals clicking or friends laughing combined with voices shouting and an emergency siren blaring —in a church? I pushed and pulled on the door, struggling to get anywhere at the top of the stairs. My last attempt was to use full momentum. I rushed forward like a football lineman but escaped into a dark void, as if I floated effortlessly. These visions would wake me up as a lasting reminder.
“Follow your heart and go for it. You’ll only regret what you didn’t do, adventures you didn’t take, lips you didn’t kiss.”
A blazing brick exterior engulfs St. John’s Lutheran Church. It is located across the street from the Wasilewski residence—my house. St. John’s towers above the land of Ringtown, Pennsylvania and will always catch anyone’s attention. At the church’s peak lays a large silver cross and four lightning rods. Encased are stain glass windows of the 14 stages of Christ, rows and columns of cedar benches, a confessional booth, an altar, and all elements of a typical church. I was fond of hearing my echo within the vast interior when nobody was around. It was all interesting, at least for an 8-year-old. Within this church, I kept an eye on a waiting room with a drop down curtain and a single booth and thought, what is it used for?
Every week as a kid, my Cub Scout group met for our activities. However, I would never get to participate in these because I quit the day after our first project. The instructors assigned the kids a birdhouse to make for blue jays. I miserably failed at my very first project because I was overexcited and refused to follow the simplest instructions. I was in second grade and struggled with arts and crafts. For Cub Scouts, this seemed to be a requirement. Hence, my frustration and lack of patience made me quit. There might have been a chance I would excel at those damn arts and crafts as a kid if I just gave myself time.
Only a town over, John Anczarski Jr. was working on the same range of assignments; however, he was much better at crafts than me. His ascetic approach to great architecture contributed to any task required of him. Two years later, we would meet for the first time.
My first encounter with John happened in 4th grade. We officially met at a basketball camp for young players to improve their skills. I remember clearly that I could not stand John because we were the tallest at the camp and they had a two-on-two league where they would pair tall players with short players. Guess who had to go head-to-head?
During the two-on-two games, I would always win and they would rotate losing teams, but every time John stepped up, he would certainly beat me. That would send me to the back of the rotation and keep me from getting my playtime.
“This is embarrassing,” I always groaned on the side.
John and his teammate would beat all the other kids. When I finally stepped up to play he would just outshoot me and send me to the back of the line a second, third, and even forth time. This ignited some childish frustration. How to frankly accept that I was the inferior athlete? That was a hard pill to swallow because I was the biggest and best athlete at my elementary school. John measured the same height as me at the time but his dribbling skills were much greater than mine. After camp, I did not see John until he transferred to my school.
One day, John just arrived in my 6th grade classroom. We immediately looked at each other and knew where we met before.
I remember running home that day.
“Mom!” I chased her to the kitchen while she cooked supper. “There’s a new Asian boy at our school, mom.” I don’t think she paid much attention, so I added, “He’s that tall player from basketball camp!” My mom took interest knowing I did not get along with this boy before. She informed me to be friendly and said I should try and be friends with him since I may have been his only acquaintance. The next day I stood out helping John get to know when we reported to music, art class, and gym. Our friendship transitioned smoothly because we consistently competed with one another. I soon started learning about John.
John wasn’t Asian at all, he had squinted eyes and a tanner skin tone but his father, John Anczarski Sr., was full blown Polish (hence the “Ski” in Anczarski). John’s presence first puzzled me (as a naïve eleven-year-old) into thinking an Asian moved into town.
John and I always faced one another in gym and quickly became adversaries at recess. This was mainly because no one from such a small farm town played any sports. We only embraced baseball in our town. We would have to drive a good 20 minutes to play on a basketball or football team. Most parents did not have the time or energy to do this for their kids. Thankfully, ours did.
Ringtown, Pennsylvania—how much smaller could it get? The town is as simple as apple pie.
Ringtown has a main street with alleys but rarely would you find anything fun to do. The town is an area of about 4 square miles. Around 300 families lived in the close-knit valley and they were all white. The term ‘different’ revolved around the quantity of groceries you stockpiled throughout the week. My home was accompanied by a fire pit in the backyard. Beyond the backyard, you could see all farmland. My fire pit was legendary for late-night hamburgers and hotdogs. All you needed was a stick to hold them over the fire for a meal.
We had some sweet times sitting out there, munching on s’mores. We admired how bright the stars lit up above an open field. But our time could not compare when it was spent at John’s house.
John lived on the outskirts of town. His family owned a pretty nice patch of land roughly the size of a football field with surrounding woods. This was the ideal place for kids to grow up. You couldn’t spell out a typical day at the Anczarski residence. John could build about anything you asked him to. From the time we were young, he would build bridges and forts in the backyard. He always worked on his Boy Scout projects and rose through the ranks to become an Eagle Scout. An energetic source like John only came once in a generation, within the borders of our small town.
Many residents could never recall such a collection of lively guys. I loved spending any ounce of my free time over at John’s farmhouse. When we used to call each other by phone, I would invite him over, yet, an overpowering spring in his voice eagerly cried, “Why don’t you just come over here?” Deep down, John and I both knew there was nothing to do around the area. Yet, we connected to the offerings of the nearby woods. Confronting the great outdoors—a rite of passage for any group of friends.
Our footprints tread in the thickest mud behind his house.
Our carvings remain in the tree stumps.
Our old fishing and hunting gear still continues to reek from lack of cleaning it.
Our bodies earned brutal scars from the scrapes, cuts, and bruises—a way of maturing from the woods. Entering the woods at the sun’s dwindling hours became an escape from our parents, chores, and homework. No matter the weather conditions, we listened carefully to the peace and comfort nature offered.
So John and I became friends in 6th grade. Our days were entertained by sitting through classes of Miss Yoder. She embodied everything a killjoy could be—snapping and blaming students for her problems. Miss Yoder’s marital status of single at age thirty was justified as no man would cross her princess attitude. Miss Yoder called our town ‘Hickville’. She eventually would land a kindergarten teaching job in Indianapolis. Her move negatively impacted her career. Her new position lasted one year before making national news on accusations filed by parents for verbally abusing their children. When the accusations first came out, my classmates gaped at surprise, but not in shock.
Miss Yoder always had her favorites picked in the class.
John and I were not among them.
Once John and I got beyond Miss Yoder, life picked up. For John, he rose through the social ranks of high school and embraced girls, outdoors, sports, and the parties.
John never judged me for not being a part of the popular crowd. Our escape had always been the woods around his house. When at the heart of the woods, I showed John buck rubs and deer scrapes. These rubs are from when the deer antlers velvet, the buck rubs to mark his territory on a tree and to rub his horns off to regrow. Buck scrapes are usually under a hanging tree branch and only marked during mating season. The buck scrapes the dirt with his hoof making a circle where he plans to mate with a doe.
I was the first one to influence John to hunt.
After some convincing, his parents let him get a bow and a gun. John and I became the best hunting partners you could find. We would scout out hunting spots, put up tree stands, and go fishing. Habits are easy to develop and hard to break when you immerse yourself in the great outdoors. For some reason, John fell in love with nature. That habit surely would never break. He would show me tricks he learned in Eagle Scouts and I taught him my hunting skills.
We grew fond of campfires, shooting off fireworks, and paintballing around his yard. John and I continued to play basketball in a league until the 9th grade. I stepped aside, but John never gave up his athletic talents.
Those days long passed.
Time quickly moved along to autumn of 2009. It was a great feeling to sit down and reminisce about my grade school days—if only there was a way to stop scrolling through old Facebook pictures. If these swirling memories were not emerging into my mind, maybe I would have focused on a serious research paper that was due in a few days.
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About the Author
Both Stephen Wasilewski and Brian Mahoney graduated Kutztown University in May of 2012 as Education majors. Stephen has resided in Ringtown, PA and Brian resides in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania. Stephen earned his Master’s Degree at Misericordia University while Brian has one book of poetry published in 2011 by Aperture Press, titled Uncommon Kaleidoscopes.
Stephen grew up with John Anczarski as his childhood friend. Stephen took the liberty in piecing together personal experiences before and after the 2010 Pink Pedal ride in order to preserve its story.
Stephen reached out to his friend Brian at Kutztown University to cowrite The Pink Pedal. Stephen knew the documentations and vivid experiences from 2010 could be harnessed with Brian’s impeccable writing style and accuracy. Brian felt honored to cowrite The Pink Pedal as his mother had survived breast cancer in 2008.